Hurricane Sandy takes aim at New Jersey

2012-10-30 00:11
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Hurricane Sandy hits US

Monster storm Sandy has swept a wall of churning sea water and driving rain onto the eastern US, flooding the heart of downtown New York and leaving at least 13 dead.

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Atlantic City - A furious Hurricane Sandy made the westward lurch that forecasters feared and took dead aim at New Jersey and Delaware on Monday, washing away part of the Atlantic City boardwalk, putting the presidential campaign on hold and threatening to cripple Wall Street and the New York subway system with an epic surge of seawater.

Gaining speed and power through the day, the storm knocked out electricity to more than 1 million people and figured to upend life for tens of millions more.

It clobbered the boarded-up big cities of the Northeast corridor, from Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia, New York and Boston, with stinging rain and gusts of nearly 140km/h.

As it drew near, Sandy moved closer to converging with two cold-weather systems to form a hellish superstorm of snow, rain and wind. Forecasters warned of 6m waves bashing into the Chicago lakefront and up to 1m of snow in West Virginia.

Airlines cancelled more than 12 000 flights, disrupting the plans of travelers all over the world, and storm damage was projected at $10bn to $20bn, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled their campaign appearances at the very height of the race, with just over a week to go before Election Day.

The president pledged the government's help and made a direct plea from the White House to those in the storm's path.

"When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Don't delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given, because this is a powerful storm."

Sandy, which killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic, began to hook left at midday and was about 60km south of Atlantic City by evening, moving west-northwest at almost 50km/h - faster than forecasters expected.

Pete Wilson, who owns an antiques shop in Cape May, New Jersey, at the state's southern tip and directly in Sandy's path, said the water was 15cm above the bottom edge of the door.

He had already taken a truckload of antiques out but was certain he would take a big hit.

"My jewellery cases are going to be toast," he said. "I am not too happy. I am just going to have to wait, and hopefully clean up."

By early evening, the hurricane was expected to barrel into southern New Jersey or Delaware. That would put New York City and Long Island along its dangerous northeastern wall, facing perhaps 11 feet of water.

Off the charts

While the hurricane's 145km/h winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed "astoundingly low" barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

"We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded" in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.

"The energy of the storm surge is off the charts, basically."

In New York City, authorities worried that salt water would seep through the boarded-up street grates and through the sandbags placed at subway entrances, crippling the electrical connections needed to operate the subway.

Authorities also feared the surge of seawater could damage the underground electrical and communications lines in lower Manhattan that are vital to the nation's financial centre.

Hours before landfall, there was evidence of the storm's power.

A construction crane atop a luxury high-rise in New York City collapsed in the wind and dangled precariously over the streets. Forecasters said the wind atop the building may have been close to 153km/h.

Off North Carolina, a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 Marlon Brando movie Mutiny on the Bounty went down in the storm, and 14 crew members were rescued by helicopter from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 4.5m seas. Two other crew members were missing.

They were believed to be wearing survival suits capable of protecting them from cold water for 15 hours.

At Cape May, sloshed over the seawall, and it punched through dunes in other seaside communities. Sandy also put most of Atlantic City under water and tore away an old section of its historic boardwalk.

"When I think about how much water is already in the streets, and how much more is going to come with high tide tonight, this is going to be devastating," said Bob McDevitt, president of the main Atlantic City casino workers union. "I think this is going to be a really bad situation tonight."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, addressing those who had not yet evacuated the state's narrow barrier islands, said in his characteristically blunt way: "This is not a time to be a show-off. This is not a time to be stupid."

In Maryland, at least 30m of a fishing pier at the beach resort of Ocean City was destroyed, and Governor Martin O'Malley said there would be devastating flooding from the swollen Chesapeake Bay.

"There will be people who die and are killed in this storm," he said.

Too late to evacuate

At least half a million people had been ordered to evacuate, including 375 000 from low-lying parts of New York City, and by the afternoon authorities were warning that it could be too late for people who had not left already.

Millions of people stayed home from work. Sheila Gladden evacuated her home in Philadelphia's flood-prone Eastwick neighbourhood, which took on 1.7m of water during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and headed for a hotel.

"I'm not going through this again," she said.

Those who stayed behind had few ways to get out. New York's subways, which serve 5 million people a day, were shut down.

The Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Stock and bond markets were closed on Monday and on Tuesday, the first shutdown since the days after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the first two-day closing of the stock market because of weather since a blizzard in 1888.

The New York Stock Exchange is inside the mandatory evacuation zone in lower Manhattan, blocks from New York Harbour.

If the storm reaches the higher estimate of $20bn in damage, that would put it ahead of Hurricane Irene, which raked the Northeast in August 2011 and caused $16bn in damage.

Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1 200 people, cost $108bn.

- AP

Read more on:    us  |  weather  |  us superstorm
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